Creative destruction Science

There is a fire in the forest. It started with a spark. The implement worked the ground in the spring, and its bucket hit a rock. The fire was extinguished in a hurry, and therefore it remained for months to sink deep into the peatland. In the spring frosts, the fire moved even deeper into the peat cover and slowly ate the ash into the ashes.

Sometimes in the summer it came back to the ground again. On a hot morning, the flame grabs a dry litter and sets off.

The flames of such a forest fire are still so low and slow that one can calmly walk away from the fire. The comet ant, on the other hand, is in distress. It and a hundred thousand comrades sensed that the temperature was rising sharply.

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The situation is desperate, especially in the surface layers of a meter-high nest, in chambers containing egg cells and larvae, the temperature of which is precisely controlled by the workers. Eggs and larvae die first. The laying queen retreats deeper into the shelter.

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As the flames lick the side of the dry structure, the ants have dug below ground to the dungeons to protect the queen. They cannot leave their hometown as it is the only center of their lives.

If an anthill assembled from straws and needles bursts into flames, the queen and society as a whole will be destroyed.

Wild bees follow the same tactics. As they smell the smoke, they hide in the nest waiting for the fire to pass.

Birds, mammals and reptiles are fleeing. They may emit toxic fumes from the fire. Plague can also shorten their lifespan.

The birds leave the young chicks behind. The bear, the lynx, the lynx and the fox work hard to get their own puppies to safety. Earthworms dig deep into the cool ground.

There are plants left that cannot escape.

Forests need fire

Forest fires have a contradictory nature: they are natural processes and essential for many habitats and species, but harmful to human activities and property.

That’s what the lecturer says Henrik Lindberg From Häme University of Applied Sciences. He studies the ecology of the burned forest in the Evo area and regularly participates in burning training for forestry students a few times a year.

According to Lindberg, burning has traditionally been used to improve forest regeneration. The fire created good conditions for young seedlings to grow in large areas at the same time.

Recently, the importance of fire for the life of forests has been emphasized. In protected areas, controlled fires are lit in the vertical forest. In the 21st century, the method became an integral part of their treatment.

“There is a lot of talk about forest fires, but there are very few forests in Finland compared to other countries. The aim in Finland is always to put out fires quickly and efficiently. The so-called let it burn policy is not in use in Finland, even though burning a large forest area would be good for biodiversity here as well, ”says Lindberg.

The fire area invites life

For most organisms, the fumes of a burning forest are dangerous, but for others they bring water to the tongue. There is a buzz in the air as the former nest of the honeysuckle still glows red in the wake of the flames. Often a firefighter flies to the fire site first. It senses heat with its sensitive infrared organ and smoke horns. It tracks fire even tens of miles away.

The beetle female wants to find a burnt stump to lay her eggs on. It only takes two to four days and they are already hatching. Charred and burnt wood is a delicious food for the larvae of the water lily.

A carbon black ashtray is expected to be a guest at sites that promote diversity.

Lude disappeared from Finland for half a century, until observations were made in 1996 in connection with the restoration of Koli National Park. The fire attracted the bream to the scene, probably from the Russian side.

Mushrooms, such as a soot cap, a carbon vase and a firebox, as well as a rare and endangered glow vase, live in the footsteps of a forest fire.

In Finland, two hundred species are found that thrive only where the fire has just raged. Metsähallitus has burned adjacent forests in the protected areas so that these species have the opportunity to change their habitat after the fires.

The relationship of all species to burnt wood is not known, says the professor of Forest Ecology Jari Kouki From the University of Eastern Finland. For example, some insects appear to be eating a fungus growing on a charred tree and not the tree itself.

In the squares cleared by fires, competition for species is initially low. I will be followed by those looking for a living space. Some species give way to a new fire area as slower ones find their place.

The generation of hurricanes has chosen a different tactic. Its seeds have been waiting for a forest fire in the country for hundreds of years, as they only germinate after severe heat treatment.

The abundance of species in need of burnt areas and their rapid adaptation to volcanic soil show that fire has long been present in our forests. All kinds of burnt wood surfaces seem to be valuable. Burnt stumps and logging residues as well as litter may have a diverse species that is smaller or missing from unburned sites.

Kouki has led an experiment in Lieksa that has lasted for more than twenty years. This is Finland’s largest and longest-running study of the effects of forest fires. Dozens of areas have been burned in various ways during that time.

According to the results, especially natural and young burned forests are unique and rich in species. They are home to many endangered species. In addition to fire treatment, the diversity of the species is affected by the savings trees left on the fire site.

“If you compare a burned forest to an open forest, the difference is huge,” says Kouki.

The conventional felling area lacks important structures that maintain the habitat of the habitat, charred wood and litter, and robust trees. According to Kouk, the diversity of commercial forests could be greatly promoted by combining savings trees and burning with clear-cutting.

You can read the full article in Science Nature issue 7/2021 or listen Suplla. If you are a subscriber to one of Sanoma’s magazines, you also have free access to Science Nature digital magazine.

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